Civil liberties group challenges Alabama abortion restrictions

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 02, 2016 6:23 PM

By Karen Brooks

(Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union challenged in federal court in Alabama on Thursday new state abortion restrictions that limit the proximity of clinics to public schools and ban a procedure used to terminate pregnancies in the second trimester.

The measures could force the closure of two clinics in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, which perform more than half the abortions in the state, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.

The restrictions come amid a wave of laws being adopted by states as conservatives seek to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

"It's long past time for our elected officials to stop interfering with a woman's personal decisions and to start dealing with the very real problems in our state," Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement.

Under the restrictions, Alabama could be left with three abortion clinics in a state where nearly one million women are of reproductive age, Watson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed its challenge in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama as a supplemental complaint to a 2015 lawsuit over another state abortion restriction.

The organization is also challenging a new regulation that it said requires doctors to give every patient a copy of her medical record after the procedure. The ACLU said a paper record would make it harder for a woman to keep private that she had an abortion or pregnancy.

A spokesperson for Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Thursday. Bentley, who was not named in the complaint, last month signed into law the measures barring clinics near schools and restricting the second-trimester procedure, both due to take effect on Aug. 1. [nL2N1891YU]

Alabama was the fifth state to restrict an abortion method commonly performed in the second trimester of a pregnancy, known as dilation and evacuation or D&E. Opponents call it dismemberment abortion.

One of the new Alabama laws prevents state health officials from issuing or renewing the licenses of abortion clinics within 2,000 feet of public schools serving students in grades kindergarten through eight. Advocates have said the measure would protect students from exposure to anti-abortion demonstrations.

Restricting abortion clinics based on proximity to a school represents an approach not yet seen in other states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health policy.